We were thrilled to get to recognize Rich Thomas with the Volunteer of the Year award last month. Rich is not only a committed bike safety volunteer, he’s also a super nice guy who really cares about encouraging kids to ride bikes. He truly makes our bike safety program more awesome! -LAF
How did you get involved as a volunteer with the BTA’s bike safety program?
When I retired in 1999 I was already a BTA member and looking for ways to volunteer my time. I was a bicycle tourist, and I enjoyed being around children. I think there was an email, or maybe a snail-mail, about volunteering for the bike safety program. I called and signed up to ride at a school.
At that time BTA did not really have a decent system for managing volunteers. My recollection is that community rides got cancelled without notice about half the time, for a variety of reasons. For the first couple of years I had to contact BTA about the program at the beginning of each season, because BTA did not have a record of who had volunteered the prior season. How things have changed!
Tell me about a walking or biking memory you have from childhood.
My family moved to Los Altos, California from Seattle in 1956. I was 10 and my brother was 12. We each had 3 speed bikes with “longhorn” handlebars, which were very “cool” in those days. When I was about 12 or 13 we would ride our bikes through the foothills to Stanford football games. It was probably a ten mile ride on a country road. We felt very adventurous.
What did you like the most about the BTA’s bike education program?
What I like most about the program is the incredible enthusiasm all of the instructors bring every day, making it “cool” and exciting for the kids to be physically active, and teaching all the kids that they can be successful at a physical activity, even if they don’t consider themselves athletes. I really like that all of us adults can be role models in showing the kids that bicycling, and exercise in general, is a good thing. Also, the basic concept of teaching a new generation of riders to ride safely is brilliant, especially in a city like Portland.
What’s your favorite memory from all these years of bike safety?
To be honest, I have been on so many community rides that they tend to blend into one overall sensation of enjoyment and satisfaction. But there’s definitely a standout moment from last spring. My friend Doug Windes and I were both volunteering together at Rieke Elementary, and there was a boy who didn’t know how to ride. His teacher described him as absolutely hopeless physically. Doug volunteered to stay at the school playground with the boy, rather than going on the community ride. When we returned from our ride, the boy and Doug were grinning from ear to ear, as the boy rode his bike around the playground. It took most of an hour, but little by little he learned to balance, and then to pedal. His teacher was more than a little amazed, and all his classmates cheered him on. It was really heartwarming to see how much that accomplishment meant to him.
If you could improve one thing about the bike safety program, what would it be?
It would be nice if we could routinely have two hours for the community rides, especially in neighborhoods where it is difficult to get away from busy streets, intersections, and traffic lights. It can be challenging to make sure the kids get a good long ride in just an hour. Every year has brought significant changes, so that after a dozen years or so, it seems like a really professional, well run program.
What do you love the most about volunteering?
I love seeing the reactions of the kids when they realize what they have just accomplished on their bikes. Lots of them have never done anything as physically active before, and their joy at learning how to ride safely, and then completing a long ride, is infectious. I also like hanging out with other adults who are bike geeks. Finally, I really appreciate the current efficiency of BTA’s use of volunteers. I know my time will be well spent, and that my efforts are appreciated. BTA’s communication with volunteers is exceptionally good.
Thanks, Rich! We love working with you and I am glad that you feel the same. We’re putting the call out for more volunteers for the fall bike safety program right now. Sign up!
Sign up HERE to ride with kids! We ride with classes of 4th and 5th graders every Friday (sometimes Thursday) in the fall.
Sign up HERE to help fix the the bikes that the kids ride! We fix bikes every third Saturdayfrom 10am-2pm, just click on a shift to let me know you’re coming.
Sign up HERE to volunteer at a fundraiser for our youth education programs on the evening of September 13th! It is a story telling event and fundraiser. I will be there and want you to come too. Volunteer if you like, but just COME! It is going to be rad.